Vacheron Constantin Métiers d'Art La Symbolique des Laques
A human adventure, an invitation to discover another dimension where know-how and innovation meet: the “Métiers d’Art La Symbolique des Laques” collection tells the tale of a meeting between the artists from one of the oldest Japanese lacquer houses, Zôhiko, located in Kyoto since it was founded in 1661, and the world’s oldest watch manufacturer having maintained uninterrupted production since 1755.
A cultural bridge between East and West
Acknowledged experts in the art of “maki-e”, the artisans of the House of Zôhiko perpetuate a tradition of artistic continuity and constantly renewed creativity. The most sophisticated technique in the art of lacquer, “maki-e” literally means “sprinkled picture” – or gold or silver dust delicately sprinkled on still moist lacquer which is usually black, to create the motif. Lacquer comes from the bark of the Rhus Verniciflua tree that originates from the highlands of central Asia and Tibet, which today only grows in southern China, Vietnam and Japan. “Maki-e”, which appears very early on in Japanese history, reached its artistic heights between the 8th
centuries, becoming the main decoration form from the 17th
century onwards, which it indeed still is today.
Because it understands the meaning of time, the Manufacture Vacheron Constantin respects the natural rhythm of exceptional creations. True to the spirit of the Métiers d’Art collection, the “Métiers d’Art La Symbolique des Laques” series has been extended over three years, each year producing a new set of three watches issued in 20-piece limited editions.
The mechanics of contemplation
The third and last set in the collection pays tribute to the natural beauty of the seasons, called “Setsugekka”. While Japanese ways of life have changed over the centuries, they draw on various realms of the tradition of contemplation. “Hanami Tsukimi Yukimi” watches promote this Japanese art of making an institution of the pleasure of enjoying the ephemeral gracefulness of nature: three changes of season – spring, autumn and winter – representing three symbols at the heart of Japanese rituals and heritage. It took no less than seven months to create the two dials produced for each model. Each emblem – snowflakes, cherry flowers and full moon – provide a harmonious escort for hours that are driven by an ultra-flat 1003 caliber, whose openworked silhouette also enhances its contemplative appeal.
Manufactured in 18-carat gold – a particularly delicate material to work with – this legendary movement is treated with ruthenium in order to match the dials and humbly give pride of place to the consummate excellence of the art of “maki-e”. Caliber 1003, bearing the Hallmark of Geneva, the ultimate token of excellence in the purest Geneva watchmaking tradition, remains a benchmark movement in the history of Fine Watchmaking. It measures a mere 1.64 mm thick, making it the world’s thinnest hand-wound movement, and was entirely designed, developed and manufactured in the Vacheron Constantin workshops. The sapphire crystals on either side of the watch make it possible to admire the exceptional finishes, including chamfering, straight- graining and engraving, all done by hand. Echoing Japanese culture, the sobriety of the round case framing this exceptional movement and the two “maki-e” dials, reflects the Zen spirit of the collection.
A seasonal phenomenon that is typical of Japan, the flowering of the cherry trees is the epitome of renewal. From March to the beginning of May, the cherry trees are dressed in their pink hues and shower the country in a hail of petals, like as many symbols of purity, integrity and longevity. Due to the great length of the country, the explosion into blossom does not happen in all regions at the same time. Since the beginning of time, the practice of “Hanami”, or admiration of flowers, has marked and shaped the imagination of the Japanese people.
Cherry blossoms are usually associated with weeping willows, with their respective pink and green hues providing appealing colour harmony. The face of the dial of the “Hanami” watch has the grace of the burgeoning flowers, while its back is caressed by the gentle rustling of the willow leaves, whose movement illuminates the delicacy of the motif. The typical Japanese bridge which straddles the water features of the park rounds off the scene, instilling it with a sense of great serenity.
The evening of contemplation of the full moon – or “Tsukimi” – honours the first full moon of autumn. This custom with Chinese origins was introduced in Japan during the Heian era (794– 1185). At the time, the nobles of the Imperial Court got together in the moonlight to compose poems and listen to music. The contemplation of the full moon in September became a popular practice during the Edo era (1603–1868) and peasants included it in their rites to mark the end of the harvest. The full moon hidden by a few clouds is considered to be the height of refinement and elegance in Japanese culture.
On the dial of the “Tsukimi” watch, the clouds suspended against the black lacquer create a trompe-l’œil effect in subtle misty graded shades escorting the full moon. Japanese maples dressed in a bright red autumn robe cover the back of the watch side by side with a “torii” portal, commonly built at the entrance to Shintoist sanctuaries in order to separate the sacred area from the wicked environment, a reminder of the extent to which the Japanese people remain attached to their traditions.
The “Yukumi” tradition takes place in winter. During this period, the Japanese revel in the pleasure of watching the snow fall gently. The silence of the slow fall of flakes, the frozen air and the serenity of the moment are usually enjoyed in groups. In order to protect the trees from oft heavy, thick snow that might bend them under its weight, the Japanese protect them with conical structures made of rope and bamboo, called “Yukizuri”.
The “Yukumi” watch tells the story of this winter ritual. On the face, the frail sihouettes of the snow crystals stand out against the black lacquer background. On the back, the impressive geometry of the “Yukizuri” has a light elegance revealed by the gold powder of “maki-e”. In certain gardens, it is traditional to light up the “Yukizori” at night, and their gold reflections metamorphose the area into a winter paradise.
Vacheron Constantin shares with artistic crafts its profound faith in the richness of human nature and in its creative impetus. Since 2011, the Manufacture has associated its name with the annual Métiers d’Art Days which are dedicated to promoting and passing on the culture of over 200 sometimes centuries-old skills.
Proof of the growing interest among the public and professionals alike, the 2011 Paris event hosted more than1,300,000 visitors during the three-day exhibition. In light of this unprecedented success, the 2012 Métiers d’Art Days are taking on a European dimension. Two large events, in France and Italy, in which Vacheron Constantin is taking part, will form a cultural bridge between the hand craftsmanship traditions of different countries on March 30th
and April 1st
In Paris, the “Memoires d’Avenir” exhibition will focus on the duty of transmission – a value dearly cherished by Vacheron Constantin. A dozen masters and their apprentices will be on hand to share their talents. On this occasion, for the first time, the Manufacture will present the three pieces of the “Métiers d’Art Les Univers Infinis”, in the company of a master gemsetter and his apprentices, and of two master guillocheurs (engine-turning specialists).
In Milan, the “Capi d’Opera” exhibition will pay tribute to the excellence of the artistic crafts in Lombardy, with the participation of numerous artisans. Partnering the event, Vacheron Constantin will have the pleasure of unveiling the third boxed set in its “Métiers d’Art La Symbolique des Laques” collection. A master lacquerer from the House of Zôhiko, founded in 1661 in Kyoto and with which the Manufacture has cooperated on this collection, will enable visitors to admire the ancient technique of Japanese “maki-e” lacquering.
Keenly aware of the importance of its heritage, the Manufacture is more than ever dedicated to encouraging the passing on of ancient skills. For more than 250 years, a tradition of manual workmanship alongside an unremitting quest for excellence has shaped its identity. The promotion of certain, oft little-known crafts, is an ethic that is central to each timepiece made by Vacheron Constantin.
Supporting an institution like the 2012 European Métiers d’Art Daysserves to keep an exceptional heritage alive: one that gives rise to the most beautiful works of art, precisely because it is born of the human hand and nurtured by time.